How to Select a Qualified Counselor

Have you ever tossed around the idea of going to see a counselor? Maybe one of those moments when you felt confused or unsure of the direction you wanted to take, maybe you’ve had some problems that you just wanted to discuss with someone who could be objective - but who?

Have you had a lot of head talk about this? "Maybe I should see a counselor. Oh yeah, what good would that do? Well it might help me make some decisions. You mean you can’t make these decisions by yourself? Who would I see anyway I don’t know any counselors? Probably just cost money I can’t afford. How do I know it would be worth it? Yeah, besides I know someone who went to a counselor last year and it didn’t do him/her any good."

On and on, the head talk goes, until you can drive yourself to distraction. It might help if you knew what to look for in a counselor so you can make an informed decision.

Qualified CounselorFirst of all, counselors are just people who have specialized training in some area. Don’t be awed or intimidated by them. Not all counselors know the same things, just like not all doctors know the same things; there are huge differences in training and experiences. Picking just any counselor without doing your homework is like playing the lottery - sometimes you hit it, other times you have to keep on trying until something works. Which makes a lot people give up on both the lottery and counselors? The worst thing you can do is pick up the yellow pages and go "eenie, meenie, miney, moe."

The best way to find a competent counselor is to ask your friends, family, minister, priest or your Employee Assistance Program to provide some names of people for you to consider. If you belong to an HMO, you might have to pick a counselor from a preferred provider list. Just because they are on the list does not ensure competency, but with their name should be listed their specialty, where they are located, and other pertinent facts.

After you do some homework make a list of three or four counselors. Call each one and ask for a thirty-minute free session to determine if you are a fit, most counselors will agree to this, if not, don’t go there. Always ask to speak directly to the counselor, you do not have to answer questions asked by a receptionist, if they insist on knowing why you are calling say "It is a personal call." Leave a message on their voice mail and in this message leave your name, number and a good time for them to reach you.

Now that an appointment has been made make your thirty minutes count by asking the right questions. Do not be afraid to ask them. It is your life and you are entitled to answers.

  • What are your credentials, experience and areas of specialty?
  • Has the counselor ever been to counseling?
  • Does he/she have a counselor now if not how is mental health maintained?
  • Do you work nights, or weekends?
  • Are you willing to accept cash if I do not want my insurance company to know I am here?
  • Do you give a discount for cash?
  • Do you take care of the insurance billing?
  • How long do you normally see patients, weeks, months, years?
  • Will I have access to the counselor by telephone or email?
  • Do you ever refer clients to another therapist?
  • How soon can I expect a treatment plan from you?

Once you have asked the counselor these questions you will have an idea if this relationship will work for you. Remember you wouldn’t hire a carpenter without asking a lot of questions or buy a car without doing a lot of research, be just as careful of your mental and emotional health. This is your life and you must be your own advocate. Do not allow yourself to be intimidated by big words, ask for clarification as only you know how you feel and only you can go after what you need.

Evelyn Leite is a counselor with 30 years of experience in addictions, mental health and grief work. At this time her work consists only of trainings and intensive workshops. She is the author of 8 published books and numerous articles. She can be reached at www.ACenterForTrainingAndRestoration.org  or call at 605.484.0576 for a schedule of upcoming trainings.

© Evelyn Leite MHR, LPC

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